Broadhill Lake

DARCEE seeks to facilitate positive environmental change at the local level of a river catchment by exploring how open-source data sets can be made more accessible to and useable by local residents and community groups. There is increasing public interest in water quality and biodiversity and a growing number of community environmental groups and citizen science projects. While a significant amount of environmental and other geographic data is available to the public as open-source data, it is often accessed from different websites and is difficult for users to find and interpret. The spatial scale at which data is published may not match the scale at which users wish to engage with it. Further, being able to view data on a map rather than as a numerical dataset helps to highlight spatial patterns and can aid understanding, particularly at the local level. In addition to the challenges of accessing and understanding data, using specialist GIS software such as QGIS can be challenging because of its functional complexity. It is designed for use by GIS specialists rather than the general public. As such local community groups may struggle to engage with data. The DARCEE project’s aim is to facilitate local community access to and engagement with relevant environmental datasets using GIS software in relation to the local river catchment of the River Yealm and estuary in South Devon. Through facilitating exploration of data it is hoped to enable local residents and community groups to deepen their understanding of the river catchment conditions and to adopt a more informed, scientific or structured approach to community projects.  
This project has worked closely with the Yealm Estuary Moor group (YEM), an established community group dedicated to the improvement of the water quality and biodiversity of the River Yealm catchment and estuary in South Devon, through the enhancement of environmental conditions along the river corridor. Together with the YEM group and local residents of the river catchment, the project has created a bespoke GIS mapping package (Yealm Mapper) comprising a simplified version of an existing open-source GIS software (QGIS) and a bespoke dataset for the river catchment. Altogether four community workshops were held over the summer and autumn of 2023 to enable the community to input their views so that the software and data are as relevant, user-friendly and accessible to as wide a range of users as possible. The initial two workshops were held to find out what the community’s existing knowledge and priorities for the data and mapping package were, while the third and fourth workshops enabled users to test the package and give feedback. The final version of Yealm Mapper is available to download from this webpage, please see below.

Yealm Mapper

What is the Yealm Mapper?

The Yealm Mapper caters for a range of user needs: to enable users to a) view data within the whole river catchment and estuary and to zoom in to particular locations within the catchment; b) to analyse data within the catchment by viewing overlaying datasets and c) to input user-collected data and display in map form. As such, the Yealm Mapper caters for different levels of user engagement with the local environment from those who have a general interest in the river catchment to those who actively wish to undertake actions to enhance the river catchment. For the latter group, the Yealm Mapper can be used to identify opportunities for ‘place-based’ actions along the catchment. 
In order to make the QGIS software more user-friendly, the Yealm Mapper was created using a series of steps.  
  1. The QGIS software interface was simplified to discard superfluous functionality from the default QGIS install programme. This step enabled the main user view to show a simplified toolbar. 
  2. A customised control panel was created that offers functions specific to the project’s needs. For example, users can select specific geographical areas of the catchment to view. These areas include the river sub-catchment boundaries and parish boundaries as well as place names. Users can also select data themes to display (groups of data relating to for example water quality or biodiversity) although in response to user feedback individual data layers are also visible so that users have control over which individual data layers to display. 
  3. An option for users to upload user-collected data has also been created to support citizen-science projects. In order to ensure that any uploaded data has a standardised format and can be shared between users, a specific menu of options has been included.  
  4. Finally, users have the option to create and save maps for display. 
In developing the Yealm Mapper, a trade-off has been made between simplicity and functionality. For example, the Mapper does not offer advanced GIS functions but is designed for general useability. A trade-off has also been made with regards to software and hardware required. While a web-based or app-based GIS map would be easier for users to use and view, it was not practicable to develop for an individual river catchment with the resources available to the project. The Yealm Mapper therefore requires individual users to download the software onto their laptop or desktop and then to download the data to view in it. As such, each user has their own version of the Yealm Mapper and will need to cooperate to share data. 
The data layers have been processed from open-source sites into formats suitable for onscreen display. Each dataset has been clipped to the catchment boundary plus a buffer zone. Yealm Mapper has a choice of two base maps, both of which are supplied as streaming images services from online data servers. The default base layer is Microsoft’s Bing Satellite, with a more cartographic alternative provided by OpenStreetMap. 
Users can click on an individual data point to access information about it (from the associated dataset). In order to aid understanding of what the datasets show, metadata have been added (for example, descriptions of the data and a link to the original data source) to give users a clearer understanding of where the data are from and what they show. The most recent open-source data available has been included in the dataset. 

How to install and use the Yealm Mapper:

How to install and use the Yealm Mapper 
Before you can start to use the Yealm Mapper please first download and install the free QGIS software on your laptop or PC using the following links: 
Please follow the relevant instructions for Apple Mac users and Windows users. The initial download can take a while, up to 30 minutes.
The link to download the Yealm Mapper software and data to your laptop or PC is Yealm Mapper. The data folder is called Yealm Mapper Release V1. Please refer to the QGIS download instructions for how to download and unzip the data folder ready for use. 
View a set of training tutorials on how to get started with and use Yealm Mapper: 

Wider project outcomes 

Volunteers for the YEM group have been working with the Westcountry Rivers Trust on a CSI project studying the long term river health of the River Yealm. It is hoped that this CSI project and others in future can use the Yealm Mapper to display and analyse data collected by volunteers.  
In future, the Yealm Mapper could be developed into a web-based GIS resource or app to encourage wider use. The concept and method could be replicated for other river catchments to support other river catchment-based citizen science initiatives. To this end, the project has recorded the steps taken to create the Yealm Mapper so that it can be repurposed and developed further in the future.  
The Yealm Mapper can be used to promote public engagement beyond the YEM group and local residents. It is hoped that the Yealm Mapper will be of interest to farmers and landowners within the catchment and to local schools for educational purposes. The project’s objectives also feed into wider Government aims to promote local nature recovery strategies at a landscape scale.  For example, it may support the work of the Devon Local Nature Partnership on the Devon Nature Recovery Network Map.